A river is drying up in China — revealing 600-year-old Buddhist statues in the process

“This is very precious,” one person said, which would be cute if it weren’t a direct result of climate change.

RUGAO, CHINA - AUGUST 23, 2022 - An exposed beach in the middle of the river is seen on the west sid...
CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

There are few benefits to the rapidly dwindling water levels across the planet — at least when it comes to the ongoing survival of the species that currently occupy Earth. It’s been a real boon to understanding those who came before us, though, as receding waterlines have been revealing things previously lost to history. The latest revelation comes from China, where an ongoing drought has resulted in the Yangtze River drying up — uncovering 600-year-old Buddhist relics that haven’t been seen for centuries.

According to a report from Vice, the relics were spotted on an island reef, made visible by the low water levels. The three statues are believed to have been built by the Qing and Ming dynasties, meaning they were likely built sometime between the 1400s and 1600s. The middle statue, the tallest of the three, sits at about 95 centimeters tall (about 37 inches) and shows a monk sitting on a lotus petal, a symbol of purity and spiritual awakening in the Buddhist tradition. Fittingly for this reveal, the lotus flower is known for its arising from dirty waters looking perfect and untouched.

The statues, believed to have been built to bless passing boats, were spotted on the submerged island located outside the city of Chongqing, a municipal area that is home to more than 31 million people in southwestern China. Since the statues were revealed, they have been attracting lots of visitors — including some who are willing to swim over to the sculptures just to take a closer look, according to a report from Reuters. “I think this is very precious,” one person said, which is cute, until you remember why we’re seeing these long-lost statues at all.

The statues have been visible before, as recently as 2020. But China is currently in the middle of a historic drought that is threatening everything from its ability to generate hydropower to its crops. Rainfall in the Yangtze River basin is down 45% below normal levels, and as many as 66 rivers in the Chongqing region are drying up. The heat wave plaguing the area isn’t expected to let up for at least another week, either, per Reuters.

Discovering our history is great. Doing so because our future is in doubt is ... less so. But let’s appreciate this lost history for what it is, and hopefully, there will be many more generations who will have the opportunity to discover this past all over again.